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Conover recognized for low-cost tech tactics 

Conover Director of Information Technology Chris Niver spent the last few years finding ways to increase services with a decreasing budget. His hard work has paid off with recognition most recently from Spiceworks, an international information technology community.

“As a one-person IT shop, I don’t have a lot of time, and I definitely don’t have any money to experiment,” Niver said. “I know my constraints – I don’t have a budget, so if I want to do something I need to find a creative way to do it.”

Connect2Conover, a mobile-optimized website, recently won a March Madness bracket contest hosted by Spiceworks. Niver developed Connect2Conover at no cost, and the project beat out hundreds of other submissions from public and private organizations across the nation.

 
Conover IT Director Chris Niver with one of his recent awards for innovative, low-cost technology projects. Photo credit: North Carolina Local Government Information Systems Association
Niver realized people were getting information from mobile devices rather than computers when cellphone sales started to surpass those of laptops and desktops for the first time in 2011, and Conover’s website wasn’t the most mobile friendly site.

“We could really see the shift in people wanting stuff in the palm of their hand, and because the city’s website didn’t offer that, I started investigating,” Niver said.

He didn’t choose a mobile app because those take money and time to program for multiple device sizes and platforms, but he did find Winksite.com, which allowed him to strip the mobile site of data-intensive features like the calendar, pictures and video to provide a fast, easy information source for citizens.

The mobile website allows users to easily report crime, request debris pick-up, and email city staff and council among other features.

Niver also won the Local Government Federal Credit Union Government Innovation Grant Award, which is presented annually by the University of North Carolina School of Government and the North Carolina Government Information Systems Association, for his assistance in bringing free Wi-Fi to downtown Conover and surrounding businesses through a public-private partnership. 

NC Wireless, an internet provider that brings wireless internet to rural areas otherwise not serviced, wanted to put antennas on the Conover’s water tower to provide internet access to Conover’s businesses. However, Conover rents the space out at a rate NC Wireless could not afford. Niver proposed a trade where NC Wireless could use the water tower space in exchange for free Wi-Fi in the downtown area.

“The partnership not only helped the citizens, but the local businesses as well because now they have access to affordable high speed internet,” Niver said. “You can’t run a business without internet.”

Internet has been available downtown, including two city parks, since January, and Niver said citizens are pleased with the convenience.

Citizens are also starting to see Niver and the City as a resource – he’s created websites as an in-kind donation to two area nonprofits including the local farmers market. Niver used Wix.com to start a free website that’s easy to use that allows the farmers market manager to post updates and pictures that automatically post to the market’s social media channels.

“I’m always looking for new ways to use technology, and I’m always looking for ways to bring services to citizens at low or, hopefully, no cost,” he said.